Published Mar 29, 2019Harmony Korine has explored the deepest recesses of the human condition through his stirring, occasionally controversial body of work, and in the process, he's helped shape modern American cinema. Now, however, he just wants to laugh.
The Beach Bum, like its title suggests, is a shaggy, doped-out comedy that's intent on serving up weed jokes and comical set pieces over plot points or moments of poignancy. The film stars Matthew McConaughey as Moondog — a celebrated poet who habitually shrugs off work to party in the Florida Keys.
The film is packed with a dizzying array of colourful supporting characters, including a Christian nu-metal fanatic (Zac Efron) and a terrible boat-tour captain who loves dolphins (Martin Lawrence). In fitting with the film's distinct tone, Jimmy Buffett also makes a handful of appearances.
We caught up with Harmony to discuss exactly what the hell is going on in The Beach Bum, and the answer is abundantly clear: he just wants to have a laugh.
You strike me as the kind of person that doesn't care about reviews. Have you paid attention to the response to The Beach Bum? How have the critics made you feel?
I'm always happy. As long as people are reacting, it's good. I love the way people are reacting with this movie.
Why did you decide to make a straight-up comedy at this point in your career?
I'd grown up on Cheech & Chong movies. I always loved stoner films, and for whatever reason, I felt like I just wanted to laugh and make something that circled this idea of cosmic America that maybe exists or maybe doesn't anymore, I don't know. Thinking of living in South Florida and spending a lot of time in Key West and the Keys and stuff, you notice there's a certain character type that celebrates this total lack of ambition, which I find really exciting. So I thought, you know, it'd be great to make a movie about these dudes that live on houseboats and drink wine and just go out in the ocean and chase chickens and chase the American Dream — or actually walk away from it.
I watched your recent episode of Epicly Later'd and your neighbour reminded me a lot of Matthew McConaughey's Moondog.
Yeah, Albert. Albert's a total Beach Bum archetype.
It's amazing that the archetype exists in real life. As a Canadian, I often find that wacky characters in films seem too exaggerated, but then whenever I visit America, I see that these people actually exist.
It comes from some place. It's a different time than even ten years ago, 20 years ago. Now, because of Instagram and the internet, everyone is more connected and self-conscious in a way that they didn't used to be. But you still will find pockets of wildness. You'll still find that kind of strange beauty down there, if you look.
People love to ascribe a lot of highbrow meaning to your work. When you make films like The Beach Bum, are you reacting to yourself, or to the other films in your career, or to people's perception of you as a filmmaker?
I just do what I do. I just try my best. I just try to entertain the troops, you know. The way that Bob Hope would just walk out there onstage and he would swing his golf club and people would crack up. I'm just trying to swing my golf club. I'm just trying to bring it. So whatever people prescribe or subscribe or inscribe, wherever they go — up is down, down is up. I'm just where I'm at, but I'm not even really there. I'm just doing my thing.
Do you relate to Moondog?
I relate to certain things, and other things not. You know, he's such a wild character and a complex character. There's this kind of moral ambiguity to things. He's a sensualist. So if one joint feels good, he smokes ten. In some ways, I guess, that's something I can relate to.
Another thing that makes The Beach Bum stand out is that no one wants to make big, broad comedies anymore, and you've made something that feels like it could be an Adam Sandler movie in the best possible way. What are some other comedies that you love?
You know, all those films like Weekend at Bernie's, Fletch, Caddyshack, Police Academy. The really, really good ones. Up in Smoke, obviously. And then all the Marx brothers films. This is called the New Classics. I mean we all love 400 Blows, but Weekend at Bernie's doesn't blow.
How did the cast come together for The Beach Bum? Who was your dream casting and who came in at the last minute?
They were all kind of the dream. Pretty much everybody that was in it. Obviously Matthew was huge, just because he has that kind of stoner mythology to him in real life. I was trying to think of, with all of these actors, who embodies this idea of a kind of cosmic America? Who would inhabit that stoned South Florida playground? And it was like, of course Jimmy Buffett would be there, and you gotta have Martin Lawrence down there, and Snoop's gotta be in that, and Isla Fischer, and Zac Efron, and then, well, Jonah [Hill]'s gotta be the gay agent.
Zac Efron is certainly one of the most memorable characters in the film. Why did you decide you needed to have a Christian nu-metal guy?
Well, you know, I was thinking about it. Like, rehab and stuff. And there's always Christian metal dudes in rehab. So I was thinking, who would be a Christian metal guy? He'd always be clenching his jaw. Vaping. Wearing JNCO pants and maybe those Heelys and stuff. I was just like, Zac Efron seems perfect. Because Zac has that intensity, but there's some kind of — he's really amazing to watch in this broad humour way. So it just made sense.
Jimmy Buffett was also an inspired choice. What was it like to have him in the movie?
I mean Jimmy's a friend of mine. I just love the guy. I always thought the movie should work like a kind of Jimmy Buffett ballad gone bad, where it would have a boozy feel to it and the narrative structure would feel like weed smoke wafting up to the clouds. But at the same time, it would have this lyrical-ness, like a Jimmy Buffett song. It was a blast working with him. I think he flew his seaplane right into the set.
I read that you wanted to screen The Beach Bum in theatres where there was weed smoke blasted into the audience
We're trying to do that. I think we have a couple theatres lined up in places where it's legal. Right now I think they're just figuring out the ventilation systems in the theatres, but we're going to pump in some serious high-grade, and it's going to be a mix of high-grade weed, hopefully Snoop's brand, and some incense. And we're trying to get the floor to rock like a houseboat. And I feel like then the movie can be properly experienced.
Last year, with Mid90s and Skate Kitchen, it seemed like a lot of young filmmakers were paying homage to your work. How does it feel to be revered at this point in your career?
It's nice, I love it. Because when I was a kid making those movies, a lot of people tried to go after me for making those types of films. It's fun for me now to go to screenings of those movies and to see the audience in some ways has grown. It's nice, because you put everything into your work. You put your heart into it. You put your all. Or at least I do. And I try to make everything to give it some kind of soul. So when you see that over time, or whatever it is, that people appreciate the films, I don't think there's anything better.
What do you want to do next?
I'm just going to go down to Key West and eat a shit load of Taco Bell and eat four or five quarts of Mountain Dew, and I'm going to make a painting with a dead fish that I know is sitting in the ocean waiting for me.
The Beach Bum is now playing across Canada.